I will summarize to the best of my ability, what I heard and experienced at the Avid Event held at the Warner Brothers studio, Stephen J. Ross Theatre, July 13, 2011. To the best of my ability because I didn’t take notes, didn’t tweet, and had three Heinekens.

The evening started off with a video showing all the movies and TV shows that used Avid in their post. But when I saw TRUE GRIT (the new one with Jeff Bridges), I was perplexed, because I knew they used FCP on that. But then I remembered that this wasn’t just a show about Media Composer, but ProTools as well. And I have no doubt it was mixed with ProTools. They had sound bytes from many industry people, including my friend Norm Hollyn. All positive comments…very typical marketting video.

Then on stage they had two editors who had used Avid, switched to FCP, then back to Avid. Alan Bell and Jonathan Alberts.  They both started on Avid, and switched to FCP…and both for similar reasons.  Cost.  Avid systems used to cost upwards $65,000 to $100,000.  And renting them was a huge chunk of change.  Alan said that the budget for the system was more than the budget for him… so he explored other options, found that he could buy FCP and then put the full post budget for editing and the system into his pocket.  This is very true.  This is why a lot of people went to FCP…cost factor.  Jonathan had a similar experience…and was able to convince Fox Studios that FCP would be right for a feature he was cutting.  But then after a few years, they both went back to Avid MC.  Project sharing being a big factor.

A new presenter came on stage and talked about Avid’s recent history…how often updates happened.  Avid MC 3 in June 2008, then 3.5 a year later.  Then 4.0 six months after that.  Then last year in June, MC 5.0…and this year, March 2011, Avid MC 5.5.  That updates were happening faster than ever, because they knew they needed to keep up with current tech.  That they no longer needed to follow, but lead.  They talked about people demanding to work with formats natively, and Avid responded with AMA…and it works with P2, Red, XDCAM, DSLR…and won an Emmy for their efforts.  And that they know that the future of the NLE are the kids, so they have a great pricing plan for students…$295 for a fully functional Media Composer and 4 years of free updates.  DUDE…great time to be a student!

Then the presentation turned to third party support.  Before they continued they put up a legal disclaimer that they said they HAD to do…to protect themselves.  They said that anything they discuss about future possibilities and features “are not a promise.”  They may or may not happen.  They said this was for legal reasons only…that stuff is coming.  But, they needed to cover their butts.

They started off with showing the Matrox MXO2 Mini….then the AJA IO Express, and how they work with Media Composer.  But also showed off the M-Audio device (pardon me for forgetting the name/model), and said that now you can run Avid MC and ProTools on the same system without hardware conflicts.  And then the screen shifted to a new device…the AJA Kona 3 (much applause from the crowd)…and they said “yes, we are listening.”  And then they mentioned that they are not only working with AJA and Matrox…but also MOTU, BlackMagic Design and BlueFish.  And then went on to show that they are looking forward to more plugin support, from Red Giant Software (more applause…from me too.  COLORISTA 2 is what I want on Avid MC).

NEXT…the new UI.  Now, rememeber that I said that I had three Heinekens earlier? Well, I had two before the presentation, so I had to go to the bathroom really bad.  So when they started to show off the UI, I had to dash.  But I did come back in time to see some of the presentation.  Here’s a pic I borrowed from pietaricreative:

But I had seen the new UI before.  I am on one of Avid’s “Customer Advisory Boards.” They invite groups of working professionals to talk about what they are planning for the future, and want our feedback. I saw the new UI then (Oh, UI is USER INTERFACE).  Nice update, great look without changing the tools and locations of buttons we have gotten used to.  VERY sleek.  I love the look of the Audio Tool.

And not only that…64 BIT!  Meaning that it can access more processors, more RAM…and render faster.  64 Bit, and a new UI that doesn’t completely change the way you do things… That’s what we look for in an NLE.  Unless the change is for the good (Smart Tools), changing the user interface because you THINK it will be better is one thing (FCP X for example…not designed by a professional editor with professionals in mind)…but changing the look to make things better.  There were a LOT of working professionals working on this interface, and that is all the difference.  Added speed and functionality under the hood with 64 bit…a new look that is cool, but the steering wheel, gear shift, turn signal and window controls are where you are used to them being.

What else? Support for Dolby Surround 7.1 mixing…IN MEDIA COMPOSER.  More audio functions because editors demanded them.  DNxHD 4444 (more applause!)…and ProRes encoding.  Yes, ProRes ENCODING.  From Media Composer, Mac or PC based.  Because they know that a lot of deliverables are now based around that format.

Then they showed a video of the ELLEN SHOW…on how they were Avid, switched to FCP, then a year later came back to Avid.  This video was a little dated, and very much a marketing tool.  The editors involved were all definitely from Avid backgrounds, so when they said things like “something I did in Media Composer with two steps took five to six steps in FCP,” I rolled my eyes.  Because I know that people from Avid backgrounds don’t run FCP properly.  When i was on a show with 6 editors…4 FCP experts and 2 Avid converts, the only people who constantly had issues where the Avid people.  This was a case of switching to a tool and not having people who knew how to use that tool properly…so they switched back.  BUT, I will say that Avid MC in a shared workflow environment is hands down better than FCP.  No question.  MC lets you work without having to think about the technical stuff.  And with FCP, you need to pay attention to the technical stuff, or crap will happen.  That’s the big difference.  But, with creative editors, not having to think about the technical stuff is a weight off their shoulders.  Only a good thing.

Then the presentation ended, and the mingling began.  They invited us to talk to Avid representatives about our concerns, our wants and our needs.  I stayed in the theatre for a while chatting with my friend Dan Wolfmeyer (@dwolfmeyer), and with Rob Ashe (who I know from twitter as @robtheeditor and just met that evening).  We all came from Avid, and switched to FCP…and were shooting the shit when Angus McKay (Avid employee) came by and wanted to hear our thoughts.

Then I wandered out to the vendor tables.  I spoke to the Red Giant people who assured me that they were working closely with Avid to make plugins for them…GREAT news.  Saw MOTU there, but they were demoing FCP (odd…)…Avid, Matrox, Sorenson.  I wandered outside and looked at the Euphonix Artist Series including the Artist Control and Artist Transport. Not sure how I’d integrate these into my editing workflow, but I sure would like to see what they would add.  Completely programmable..get my hand off that mouse, which I’d like to do.

I met a lot of people I knew, more that I didn’t.  Got a ribbing from Terry Curren of Alpha Dogs (who has a podcast with Phil Hodgetts) about my steadfast devotion to FCP in the past… yeah yeah.  I have always walked in both worlds, but yes, I did prefer FCP.  Now…well, we all see where FCP is going, so coming back to Avid isn’t that big of a transition.

The biggest thing they wanted us to take from this event is…”We are listening.”  Avid of yore (8 or so years ago) became this bloated, content, arrogant thing that we had to listen to.  They released products and we had to do things they wanted…and had to pay through the nose to do it.  They had a strangle hold on us and knew it.  Then when then dumped Apple as the platform…Apple released FCP and slowly FCP crept into Avid’s territory, eating up it’s market share.  That woke Avid up…because suddenly they went from top dog to being on death’s door. They were on the brink of foreclosure.  Avid realized they had to change, and change fast.  LISTEN to the demands of editors, otherwise we would switch to another application…because we could.  And they did change.  A full 180 in a few short years.  Now they heed our advice more than their own internal voices.  That is the makings of a good company.  One that listens to the users.

Oh, and they did mention at the presentation that they are used in 80% of the “professional” marketplace (I quote that because the term “professional” is the topic of much debate lately)…and that 50% of the Avid workforce were editors and people who worked professionally in post.  So they have people who worked in the trenches, who worked as editors and sound engineers…now working at Avid to make the tools better.  That instills in me confidence that they will continue to do right by us…and hopefully not let us down again like they did years ago.  Like Apple did weeks ago.

OK, I’ll end this with a final note.  One thing that I have taken from the NLE wars is this…be on your toes. Don’t be content with one system.  You do a great disservice to yourself by being proficient on only one system.  When Avid fumbled, I was familiar enough with FCP (from all the small side work I did), to be able to pick up the ball and keep running without missing a step.  Now that Apple fumbled, I can pick up the ball with Avid and again continue without stumbling about.  I am also learning Adobe Premiere Pro, just in case I need to use that in the future on some job, or in case Avid stumbles again.  Be on your toes…be knowledgeable with multiple tools.  You only make yourself more employable.